New brain research suggests eating disorders impact brain function

July 11, 2011

Bulimia nervosa is a severe eating disorder associated with episodic binge eating followed by extreme behaviors to avoid weight gain such as self-induced vomiting, use of laxatives or excessive exercise. It is poorly understood how brain function may be involved in bulimia.

A new study led by Guido Frank, MD, assistant professor, Departments of Psychiatry and Neuroscience and Director, Developmental Brain Research Program at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, studied the to a dopamine related reward-learning task in bulimic and healthy women. Dopamine is an important or neurotransmitter that helps regulate behavior such as learning and motivation. Frank found that bulimic women had weakened response in that are part of the reward circuitry. This response was related to the frequency of binge/purge episodes. Overeating and purging episodes thus could cause such a weaker response and set off a vicious cycle of altered .

These findings are important for several reasons. First, they directly implicate the brain reward system and related dopamine function in this disorder. Second, bulimic behavior appears to directly affect function and it is uncertain whether such alterations return to normal with recovery or not. Third, brain dopamine could be a treatment target in bulimia nervosa using specific medication that targets those abnormalities.

"This is the first study that suggests that brain dopamine related reward circuitry, pathways that modulate our drive to eat, may have a role in bulimia nervosa. We found reduced activation in this network in the bulimic women, and the more often an individual had binge/purge episodes the less responsive was their brain. That suggests that the eating disorder behavior directly affects brain function. These findings are important since the brain dopamine neurotransmitter system could be an important treatment target for bulimia nervosa," said Frank.

This study was published in Biological Psychiatry June 28, 2011.

Explore further: Researchers find 'switch' for brain's pleasure pathway

Related Stories

Researchers find 'switch' for brain's pleasure pathway

March 22, 2006

Amid reports that a drug used to treat Parkinson's disease has caused some patients to become addicted to gambling and sex, University of Pittsburgh researchers have published a study that sheds light on what may have gone ...

Professor identifies new eating disorder

September 4, 2007

A University of Iowa professor is making a case for a new eating disorder she calls purging disorder. The disorder is similar to bulimia nervosa in that both syndromes involve eating, then trying to compensate for the calories. ...

Pregnant women with bulimia have more anxiety and depression

September 17, 2008

Women who have bulimia in pregnancy have more symptoms of anxiety and depression compared to pregnant women without eating disorders. A new study from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH) shows that they also have ...

Does eating give you pleasure or make you anxious?

May 20, 2011

(Medical Xpress) -- Perhaps the most puzzling symptom of anorexia nervosa -- a disorder that tends to occur in young women -- is the refusal to eat, resulting in extreme weight loss. While most people have a great deal of ...

Recommended for you

Psychosis associated with low levels of physical activity

August 25, 2016

A large international study of more than 200,000 people in nearly 50 countries has revealed that people with psychosis engage in low levels of physical activity, and men with psychosis are over two times more likely to miss ...

Sleep makes relearning faster and longer-lasting

August 22, 2016

Getting some sleep in between study sessions may make it easier to recall what you studied and relearn what you've forgotten, even 6 months later, according to new findings from Psychological Science, a journal of the Association ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.